It is a post-financial-crisis myth that austerity-minded conservative governments always favor fiscal prudence, while redistribution-oriented progressives view large deficits as the world’s biggest free lunch. This simplistic perspective, while perhaps containing a grain of truth, badly misses the true underlying political economy of deficits.
The fact is that whenever one party has firm control of government, it has a powerful incentive to borrow to finance its priorities, knowing that it won’t necessarily be the one to foot the bill. So expect US President-elect Donald Trump’s administration, conservative or not, to make aggressive use of budget deficits to fund its priorities for taxes and spending.
The most accurate framework for thinking about government budget deficits in democracies was proposed in the late 1980s by the Italian scholars Alberto Alesina and Guido Tabellini, more or less simultaneously with two Swedes, Torsten Persson and Lars Svensson. While their approaches differ slightly in detail, the basic idea is the same: You give money to your friends while you can. If there is less money to go around later, when the opposition party gets its turn in power, well, that’s just too bad.
One only has to recall recent US economic history to confirm the insight of the Italian/Swedish model – and to see the absurdity of claims that Republicans always aim to balance the budget while Democrats always try to spend beyond the country’s means.
Month: January 2017
Prison massacres in Brazil
Great analysis by Benjamin Lessing on the Monkey Cage:
Brazil’s prison gangs wield immense power on the streets, and driving the violence is a dynamic of competitive expansion. After dominating and transforming the criminal underworlds of their respective home states in the 1990s, the PCC and the CV are now colonizing prisons, urban peripheries and trafficking corridors throughout the country. The scramble for Brazil’s criminal markets is on.
Street criminals can have many reasons to obey prison-gang rules. The most important is probably the one a Rio trafficker gave me: “Whatever you do on the outside, you have to answer for on the inside.” Moreover, the likelier you are to go to prison, the stronger your incentives to stay friendly with the gang that runs the place. This means that higher incarceration rates and anti-gang crackdowns can actually increase prison gangs’ influence over street-level actors (as I argue in this Monkey Cage post and a forthcoming paper).
This influence, David Skarbek shows, allows prison gangs in Southern California to govern otherwise unruly and violent urban drug markets, increasing overall profits and taxing the surplus. Indeed, from Los Angeles to Rio, prison gangs’ projection of power has transformed retail drug markets. These are usually fragmented, because it is difficult for one organization to control much turf. Mass incarceration solves this elegantly, arresting street criminals and physically confining them where prison gangs can easily reward obedience and punish defection.
The CV originally spread when officials unwisely dispersed its leaders among Rio’s prisons. PCC leaders have also been transferred to or arrested in other states, where they invariably founded local chapters. Conversely, some local copycat prison gangs were founded by inmates who spent time in PCC-controlled prisons in São Paulo.
It is probably better than most articles published about the massacres in Brazilian media. (I say “probably” because I admit I have not been following the coverage thoroughly.)
‘Burke was right’
Larry Summers, about Davos:
Edmund Burke famously cautioned that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I have been reminded of Burke’s words as I have observed the behavior of US business leaders in Davos over the last few days. They know better but in their public rhetoric they have embraced and enabled our new President and his policies.